As a speech and language diagnostician, I’ve tested a lot of kids. I’ve seen many, many patterns of language deficits, and while admittedly, my evidence for my upcoming assertion will be entirely anecdotal, often anecdotal evidence does accurately reflect reality. My assertion: when determining goals, language therapists should (usually) not separate receptive and expressive language. It’s usually much more effective to separate goals by morpho-syntax, semantics, and pragmatics.
Why? The bottom line is that most kids don’t have major differences between receptive language and expressive. It is just extremely difficult to produce something that you can’t understand. In this way, receptive language can be thought of as foundational, or a precursor for similar expressive language. Usually, the converse is true too – a kid can’t understand something that he can’t produce (with some exceptions). If you have a deficit in an area – pronouns for example – the majority of the time this deficit exists in both receptive and expressive language. So, since this is usually the case, and since it is usually the case that with most people there are not major differences between scores (and abilities) in receptive language and expressive language, it stands to reason that the deficits themselves can be more effectively addressed by shifting the focus.
Looking at reception as a foundation for expression also gives us a means of structuring our goals to more accurately reflect deficits. What a lot of people accept as difficulties with understanding, or following directions, really are problems with understanding (and producing) specific structures. Verb tense, prepositions, pronouns, negatives, clauses, etc. – these are the typical culprits of comprehension problems. And when kids have problems understanding a certain structure, they nearly always have problems producing that structure. Importantly, the pattern of these deficits vary from kid to kid. This means that goals for following directions usually cast too wide a net, and miss a kid’s uniquely specific problems. (Here’s another post for more on following directions.)